Artists & Designers
Sharp, George B. (American, born in Ireland, 1819-1904)
George B. Sharp was born in Ireland in 1819 and immigrated to the United States at a young age where he apprenticed in the jewelry and silverware trade. Sharp first appears as an independent manufacturer in the 1850 Philadelphia directories and is associated with William Sharp, presumed to be his brother. Both are listed twice in the 1850 Federal Industrial Census, once as a silver manufactory producing silverware and again as a jewelry manufactory generating $15,000 and $5,000 per year worth of product, respectively. In 1852 or 1853, Sharp entered into the exclusive employment of the great Philadelphia retail house, Bailey & Co. He remained with that company until the mid 1860s, when he resumed silverware manufacturing on his own.
Sharp is noted for the high quality of his production, much of which was retailed to the wealthy citizens of Philadelphia. A number of his innovative flatware patterns were granted design patents. He also produced silverware designed by his employee Augustus Conradt. The Federal Industrial Census of 1870 shows a well capitalized firm ($75,000) with an annual product of over $100,000 and forty-five employees. But in 1874, just a few years later, the firm failed, a victim of the Panic of 1873. There are some indications that Sharp continued in business on a limited basis as a jeweler and silversmith until he retired around 1880. He died in Philadelphia on February 22, 1904 of Bright's disease, a type of kidney failure. This was a common cause of death in the trade, being associated with exposure to mercury, cyanide, and related chemicals necessary to the manufacturing of jewelry and silverware.
Charles L. Venable, Silver in America, 1840-1940: A Century of Splendor (Dallas, Texas: Dallas Museum of Art; New York, New York; Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1994), 321-322.